The Today Show recently did a segment on the current trend of collagen replacement as a way to improve your skin. As many of you know, collagen is a protein that is one of our body’s important building blocks. These proteins link together and form long chains to add strength and elasticity to your skin and muscles. They form mats that turn into membranes that are important for keeping a strong barrier against the outside world. The proteins also weave themselves together in a different kind of mat that makes cartilage to cushion your joints!
As we age, our bodies produce less collagen and the collagen that is there is susceptible to damage from UV light. Yet another reason to wear sunscreen! People have been using collagen-containing products for years to help improve their skin. Jennifer Aniston thinks it gives her a healthy glow! Collagen beauty shots have been popular in Asia for a long time. Check out this post from my archives for more on collagen beauty shots.
Are collagen containing products good for your beauty routine? Does adding collagen help you look good? Is this really a thing? Let’s explore.
Collagen containing products can either be injected, applied to the skin, or ingested. Let’s look at these individually.
So this really is a thing. Before we developed our modern generation of soft tissue fillers like Restylane®, Juvederm®, and Radiesse®, there were a couple of injectable products available that contained collagen from cows. As of 2004, they were still the gold standard for soft tissue augmentation.(1) The problem with it (other than the potential icky factor) was that people could have allergic reactions- you had to do a test spot in an inconspicuous area to be sure that nothing strange would happen. Once the hyaluronic acid fillers took over, most physicians switched over. I personally have never injected someone with bovine collagen.
Now there are products that, when injected, will stimulate collagen production. The one that we use is called Radiesse®. It contains the same protein that is found in your bones. Studies have shown that these proteins get surrounded with collagen over the weeks to months following the injection. So while we’re not really injecting you with collagen, the end result is the same and your deep lines and wrinkles will get permanently better.
Our body is really good at keeping out large molecules that could be potentially damaging. The collagen membranes in your skin are dense enough that a large molecule like collagen isn’t going to penetrate into the layers where your skin would need it to look good.
When you consume collagen containing beauty products, your body digests them like it would anything else you ate or drank. As I discussed in the post about beauty shots, this means that your body will treat a collagen drink very much like any other protein-rich substance. The collagen gets broken down into proteins and amino acids which your body then uses as fuel or building blocks for what it needs. So, yes, your body may indeed use collagen beauty products that you eat to make more collagen, but it will only work where your body needs it. And remember, these things are expensive, so you’d be better served eating a lean protein like chicken, pork, or fish as a part of a balanced diet.
Mmm… Collagen replacement…
But don’t take my word for it: a recent review article(2) looked at all the scientific studies examining oral dietary supplements for improving sun damaged skin. The researchers concluded that while there were beneficial trends, the evidence wasn’t good enough to support the use of ANY dietary supplement for beauty purposes.
1) Homicz MR and Watson D. Review of Injectable Materials for Soft Tissue Augmentation. Facial Plast Surg. 2004 Feb;20(1):21-9.
2) Birnbaum J, Le Moigne A, Dispensa L, Buchner L. A Review of Clinical Trials Conducted With Oral, Multicomponent Dietary Supplements for Improving Photoaged Skin. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Dec;14(12):1453-61